Progressive Conservative party president Peter McQuaid and interim party leader Steven Myers share a laugh at the party's annual meeting Saturday in North Rustico. The party's leadership convention will be held May 30, 2015. Guardian photo by Teresa Wright.
Moving convention to February worst political mistake of year
Ah, a new year, a time for resolutions. Some people make lists. The longer the list, the less likely the resolutions will be adhered to.
So, for the P.E.I. Conservatives a single resolution should suffice. One resolution, strictly followed.
‘We, the P.E.I. PC Party, for the good of the Party, and for the benefit of all Prince Edward Islanders, resolve that in the future we will count to 10 before making any strategic moves, we further resolve that we will make more astute strategic political moves in 2015, than we did in 2014.’
Last November, after Premier Robert Ghiz announced his resignation plans, the amiable minister of agriculture, George Webster stood in the Legislature and indicated that the government wished to eliminate the October fixed election date, to allow the new Liberal leader the flexibility to call an election at his pleasure.
On Nov. 18 when George Webster rose in the legislature and spoke about changing the fixed election date, he was putting the worm on the hook. In the Legislature the Conservatives questioned the need for changing the law, and they demanded to know if the Liberals were planning a spring election.
Then the Tories panicked.
With a new Liberal leader in place on Feb. 22, and their leadership convention not scheduled until May 30, the Conservative hierarchy, including Party President Peter McQuaid, spooked themselves into believing they would be forced to fight an election campaign without a new leader in place. Those dastardly Liberals have no honour and fewer scruples.
On Nov. 27 the Conservatives indicated they had swallowed the worm, the hook, the line and the sinker. The announced they were changing the date of their convention from May 30, to February 28. They did this because they were convinced the nefarious Liberals were certain to call an election while they were in the middle of a leadership campaign.
But, just how likely was it that the Liberals would call an election when their primary opponents were in the midst of a leadership contest? Most people would view such a move as unconscionably opportunistic.
Had the Conservatives waited one more day before announcing they were changing the date of their convention, they would have heard the presumptive leader of the Liberals, Wade MacLauchlan, talk about how he intends to lower the level of acrimony in political debate by appealing to the ‘better nature’ of Islanders.
Even Conservative hawks should recognize that it would be difficult to ‘appeal to the better nature’ of Islanders and at the same time call an election whilst the Tories were in the throughs of leadership campaigning.
By assuming the ‘evil nature’ of the Liberals, the Conservatives have now set up a scenario where the Liberals can call an election as soon as the Tory new leader is named.
It is a scenario that appeals to the Liberals because it goes beyond simply catching the new Tory leader before has time to get used to his new role. By saying they will be ready for an election as soon as they have a new leader, the Conservatives have given the Liberals a pass to call an election without a legislative session. It means Wade MacLauchlan can go to the polls carrying little of the Ghiz government’s baggage.
He can claim he is a new man, with a new vision and, hopefully, a bunch of new candidates.
Had the Conservatives not panicked and held their leadership convention on May 30, Wade MacLauchlan would have been be premier on, or about, Feb. 22. He would have had to govern for at least three months before calling an election. Three months to watch a neophyte premier undergo his on-the-job training. In politics where it is said that a week is a lifetime, three months is an eternity.
Chances are the government would have gone to the Legislature in March or April to pass a budget in order to carry on the affairs of state. Mr. MacLauchlan would have likely gone to the Legislature with the existing cabinet.
Coupled with the difficulty of being a novice premier he would have had to run a legislative agenda without a seat. By bringing down a budget and governing for three months, Mr. MacLauchlan might have made a few slips and created his own baggage to carry into the next election.
But the Conservatives saved the Liberals from all that when they changed the date of their convention. It might have been the worst political mistake of the year.
Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org